West Coastin’: From L.A. with Love

“The one you said was haunted?”

So having arrived in California, our first task was to get lost.  For some reason the roads leading into Disney and thus the hotel had been blocked by the Anaheim police department.  We circled the block several times, analyzing the various routes, double-checking our GPS, wondering if our room had somehow exploded and left us lodge-less for the remaining week.  On our third try, the cop moved off, allowing traffic through; Dasad and I looked at each other, shrugged, and drove on to the Disney Paradise Pier Hotel.

Upon checking in, we discovered a gas leak had closed the street when a gaggle of construction worker busied themselves with repairs at the resort.  Our concierge assured us nothing was amiss and although flammable material spewed onto the road, we were perfectly safe.  After nearly seven hours in flight and nearly one attempting to enter the resort, I would not have cared had they admitted digging for uranium with dynamite.

Now before delving into the details of our travels, I want to say something about California weather.  In Maryland, humidity can sap nearly all of one’s energy, leaving one lethargic and crawling toward the nearest air conditioner like a drowning man clawing at the sea breeze.  Yet on the West Coast, sunshine and blue skies dissipate morning fog each and every day and nearly constant breezes found us rolling down windows and anticipating long walks through nearby shops and gardens.  It’s no wonder that many of the environmental reforms stemmed from the Californian coastline; with the constant seasonal threat of humidity, hurricanes, blizzards, and floods, East Coasters have a love/hate relationship with Mother Nature, at times indifferent to whether she’s healthy or near-death.

Despite the fam’s reliance on Ford SUVs and stubborn disbelief in global warming, procuring a planet-conscious perspective was not the reason for our trip . . .

A few years ago Dasad and I decided to take on the cross-country road trip after my esteemed friend discovered that I had never visited the Grand Canyon, a hole in my life tapestry of near epic proportions.  That suggestion in turn carried us to the Hoover Dam, a near-death experience, Vegas, a subsequent loss of $250, giant rock monuments, a bum-ridden Denver and eventually Chicago for the 2006 Wizard World Convention and a backpack full of comics.  The onset of adventure is mostly haphazard, snowballing from the most mundane into something truly extraordinary.  For this trip, the idea came to us while contemplating the quality of East Coast sushi.

“This place is fantastic, dude,” I said, clumsily plying a maki roll with my chopsticks.  “The fish just melts in my mouth.”

“This is nothing compared to the West Coast.  I ate at this one place in L.A. last year that was awesome.  Remember that hotel I told you about?”

“The one you said was haunted?”

“Same trip.  The room literally creaked and groaned all night long.  I didn’t get any sleep all week,” he shuddered, mixing more wasabi into his soy sauce. “At least, the food was excellent though.”

“Well, this place isn’t bad.  Try the yellowtail,” I suggest before spearing the fish and lifting its lifeless — but delicious — body into my mouth.  “Aweyum!”

“You know, most of the guys running this place aren’t even Japanese.”

“They’re not German,” I noted expertly, pointing out our clearly Asian cooks from behind the bar.

“True, but not all Asians can prepare sushi.  Most of the chefs here are Korean,” Dasad sighed.  “None of them look truly Japanese.  Hell, that one guy on the far left looks Mexican.”

“Well, why don’t we head out to California then?”

“Hmmm . . . why not?  But we’re not driving this time . . .”

In retrospect there may have been some errors in our reasoning.  True, hopping on a plane does save time traveling, but it also adds the expense of a rental car and complicates matters if one chooses to say . . . take three cases of wine back to Maryland.  However, in all adventures excessive planning can reduce problem-solving into something mundane and efficient, thus removing all the fun from the equation.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again . . .

I had difficulty with the antenae

I nearly choked on the antennae

Driving north from Anaheim, we found ourselves in L.A. Sunday afternoon to sample some authentic Californian non-Korean sushi.  We had stopped at a local place only the day before, experimenting with my first crunchy roll and a just recently decapitated prawn, the size of a construction worker’s hand.  Eating raw, unsteamed crustaceans was a new experience for me and proved interesting if not particularly tasty.  The deep-fried prawn head offered later ironically garnered a savory taste if quite awkward to stick into my mouth – I nearly choked on the antennae.  Yet despite the excellent meal, Dasad affirmed that better places could be found near Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, none were forthcoming for lunch the following day.

Inside the fifth circle of Hell, at the base of the Fury’s tower, overlooking the river of fire and blood, lies Damnation’s confectionery, the sole cafeteria for all eight circles.  No reservations accepted.  First come, first serve.  The appellation for this establishment does not exist.  You may term it as you wish, something catchy and clever perhaps: Beelzebub’s Bistro, Damian’s Grill, Café Satan.  No names exist here for Hell is everything, and everything is in Hell.

The food at this quaint establishment ironically enough is quite good, but severely sparse considering the billions of starved souls and devils it serves.  Fights erupt daily over crumbs, until hunger and greed swallow sense and the damned turn on one another.  At such hours, the patrons become the pâté; neither satisfying nor abating their appetites.

In California, the mortal branch of this revolting restaurant is called Shakey’s, where we stopped just before venturing into the city.  Much like Big Boy’s and Shoney’s, the California Shakey’s advertises as a buffet, a culinary free-for-all, where moon-sized tourists slowly gravitate, piling their plates high above their third or fourth chins.  Entering, everyone of all ages, gender, and nationality seemed molded into the same geometric shape: spheres.  For my part, this alone would not be sufficient to incite disgust, if not for the intense gluttony of the herd which left me speechless.

Different kinds of pizza would appear from time to time behind the bar.  Patrons would camp nearby, ready to snatch the latest slice or pie from the heat lamp.  Standing behind a young boy, an older woman stared impatiently at the pizza slice he clumsily plied from the rest of the pie.  Releasing his hand from the handle the woman struck, grabbing at the utensil as if it were discarded gold.  Quickly she scooped the two remaining slices from the pan and balanced them on her mountain of mashed potatoes, peas, and chicken fingers foaming along the sides.  Shortly after that, I lost my appetite and volunteered to save myself for our sushi dinner, lest I lose a finger down granny’s gullet.

Tar: a mammoth's kryptonite

Tar: a mammoth’s kryptonite

The sushi restaurant was situated in Culver City, technically still within L.A. according to Dasad, and did not open until 5pm.   Thus informed, we spent the remainder of the day walking through La Brea Tarpits and driving down Hollywood Blvd. and Sunset.  Gazing at larger-than-life extinct animals, I felt reasonably certain that given the unfortunate opportunity I could safely and easily free myself from the thick tar, a preconception extinguished by one of the museum’s exhibits asking you to pull various weights from the thick black goo.

“Ha, you suck,” Dasad said, leering as hefted the bar into the air, ever so slowly.

I should mention here that Dasad has been training as of late for various marathons and eventually, sometime in the next year or so, a triathlon.  Running, biking, and swimming.  Thus, he’s like strong and stuff.  Whatever, he failed to pull those weights any faster, groaning about the impossibility of the task.  If both of us managed to ensnare ourselves waist-deep in warm sludge, I feel pretty certain we’d both die horrible deaths sucking molten tar down our lungs, an encouraging thought all in all.

After the museum, we stumbled off to Grauman’s Chinese Theater for a shotglass and a few t-shirts.  Dasad’s brother Jay collected the pint-sized glassware for weekend party binges (its truly the only decor — apart from empty beer bottles — allowed to adorn a bachelor pad).  The journey to the theater however did not prove easy for body or soul.

Due to a bit of miscalculation and the high volume of tourists, we parked nearly ten or twenty blocks from the Chinese Theater, which at first gave me an excellent opportunity to stare at the various stars ingrained in the sidewalk.  Lou Abbot, Alfred Hitchcock, Red Buttons, Eva Marie Saint, and Ray Bradbury, names of immortal and incredible performers, directors, and writers etched in stone, memorialized forever next their peers . . . and a lingerie shop that sold ball-gags and leather whips.  Yes, when the stars fall, it seems their memories remain not in the sky but in the dung heap.  All along Hollywood Blvd. we passed cheap trinket shops, tattoo parlors, and the ubiquitous uniform dealer for hookers.  It was like watching an Olympic medal being used as a beer coaster.  The odor of hookah parlors haunted the path around Boris Karloff; ketchup and gum anointed the memorials of Walter Houston and John Ford; five years after his death, Rodney Dangerfield still wasn’t getting any respect, ignored entirely by fat ladies and their tiny diarrheic dogs.

Rithing in his grave . . .

Writhing in his grave.

As we closed in on the theater, gangs of costumed characters appeared en force, posing for pictures and taking autographs in exhaust-stained suits.  Walking along Dasad noticed a distinctive hierarchy among the mascots, much like the clientele among one of the city’s elite nightclubs.  Those with the best suits (i.e. Dumbledore) were stationed right before the theater; those without (i.e. the guy in the Spiderman pajamas and cardboard mask, trying in vain to climb the walls) were banished to the corners and darker sections of the block.  Factor in the hordes of fellow tourists, street musicians, and dancers, and viewing the cement footprints and hands outside the Chinese Theater proved impossible.  Spiderman nearly tripped us, tumbling to the ground after his third attempt clinging to mortar.  We ducked into the theater gift shop, quickly bought our souvenirs and left.

On a brighter note, the sushi in Culver City proved excellent.  Our selection of rolls, sashimi, and nigiri could not come soon enough, before disappearing into our mouths.  We left L.A. feeling content if a little exhausted.  Windows down half-way to the resort, sickness struck after a foul odor wafted through our Seabring (I suspect Dasad) and our trio arrived at Disney much like a Chinese lunch special: sweet and sour, soaked in warm oils until fried.  Tomorrow we visit San Diego for animals, aircraft carriers, and enchiladas plus even more gas jokes and Dasad’s descent into bestiality.  Stay tuned . . .

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